When I began working on my essay, “World War II & Nationalism” (one of several I wrote for LIFE: Rise of the Superhero), the 2016 election was just kicking into high gear and Nazis were primarily relegated to the past. Sure, we all knew pockets of white supremacists/neo-Nazis/alt-whatever-the-f*ck-else-these-guys-call-themselves, existed around the world. But a full-on Nazi rally? On American soil? In 2017? I never would have believed it. Nor that the President of the United States would then tap-dance around denouncing Nazis, or even publicly validate them by trying to create some sort of equivalence between the actions of actual self-identifying, muthereffing Nazis and the actions of the brave Americans protesting the rally.
And yet, here we are, America 2017. Rallies like the one in Charlottesville are on the rise, at home and abroad; seething losers emboldened and encouraged by 45’s victory. It’s a shameful affront against Holocaust survivors and their families, Japanese Internment Camp survivors and their families, and World War II veterans and their families–especially relatives of the murdered, lost, and fallen–that they must now watch the horrific resurgence of these monsters in their own backyards. It’s extra offensive that these alt-holes then hide behind a faux nationalism that reveals an agenda having nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with hate. How else does one flip from getting one’s Dixie-print briefs all bunched up over athletes “disrespecting” America, veterans, the U.S. military, and idk, maybe golden-lab-puppies-with-bandanas, to being A-OKAY with marching as the very anti-American, anti-freedom groups that their grandparents and great-grandparents risked their lives to fight? Who’s really disrespecting America here? Hint: It’s not the athletes.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for how to end hate or hate groups (though it would be very on-brand for 2017 if I suddenly solved one of humanity’s biggest issues in the void of my deserted blogscape). But I’ll say this: Leading up to WWII, comic publishers created many (many, many) all-American superheroes in part to unify Americans under our country’s best qualities, even if those qualities were, and still are, mainly aspirational. But in this round against the rising tide of hate groups–and here’s where I get a little corny, please bear with me–I don’t think we need to look outside ourselves for inspiration. For those of us who think the country can do better than what hate mongers offer, this is an opportunity to fashion ourselves into our own superheroes.*
*Star-spangled spandex completely optional, but encouraged.
We have the tools, the platforms, and the connections we need to motivate and activate each other, and as of now, we still have the freedom to utilize them. But we’ve all seen how quickly the status-quo can change, abroad and at home, so it’s important that we exercise those freedoms. Because, as much as we still love them (or huh? them), it wasn’t Captain America (or Spy Smasher) that defeated the Nazis in World War II, it was the real-life people that inspired those superheroes to be created in the first place. To that end, I encourage you to find an anti-hate organization in your community, or online, and put your voice, your time, and if possible, your money into supporting them.
LIFE Rise of the Superhero: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen features an exclusive introduction by the legendary Stan Lee. In addition to “WWII & Nationalism,” I wrote a couple of other pieces for this special issue, including “Super Spoofs and Satire.” If you’d like to read more, LIFE Rise of the Superhero is available at magazine stands, in bookstores, and online.